Posted by: willconley1025 | December 11, 2021

Aubrey Beardsley and Edward Gorey

When viewing Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Salomé, I was struck by a strange sense of familiarity, but was initially unable to figure out why. As I scrolled through them, however, I realized that they reminded me somewhat of the illustrations of American artist and writer Edward Gorey. When I was a child, my family had a copy of Gorey’s short story collection Amphigorey that I read over and over again, morbidly fascinated by the dark content and somewhat unsettling ink drawings. Beardsley’s illustrations inspired me to revisit some of Gorey’s work, and I was intrigued by its similarity to some of what we’ve covered in this class, including Salomé itself.

While Edward Gorey was not alive during the Victorian era (he was born in 1925 and died in 2000), his work often portrays Victorian settings and characters, and in fact he did cover illustrations for various books including Bleak House. He also wrote many books, often formatted like children’s picture books, that depict individuals in Victorian dress meeting dark, gruesome fates. For instance, his 1963 picture book The Gashlycrumb Tinies, or, After the Outing is a rhyming alphabet book telling of the grisly deaths of 26 young children, many of whom look as though they could be characters in a story like Bleak House or Alice in Wonderland. The book begins, “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away; D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh.” The book continues through the whole alphabet, with each section accompanied by an ink drawing of the death in question. The violent content and dark, sketchy illustrations contrast with the expectations one would typically have of an alphabet book, creating a chilling overall effect.

There are multiple different reasons that reading Salomé and viewing Beardsley’s illustrations made me think of Gorey’s work. For one thing, while Beardsley’s drawings are more detailed and finished-looking than Gorey’s, they have a similarly unnerving quality to them. The dark ink, hunched figures, and vaguely surreal imagery of Beardsley’s work reminded me fairly strongly of Gorey’s work that I had seen in the past. Additionally, the content of the play itself reminded me in some ways of the stories that Gorey tells. His stories and illustrations are designed to disturb and unsettle the viewer, and the deliberately unpleasant content of Salomé reminded me of this. Much of the dialogue of Salomé is also written in blunt, straightforward sentences, which are somewhat reminiscent of the simple, gruesome statements found in Gorey’s work. Reading the play and viewing Beardsley’s illustrations felt almost like an evolution of reading Amphigorey as a child, and in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if Beardsley’s work was an inspiration for Gorey.

One of Gorey’s illustrations
Gorey’s cover for Bleak House

One of Beardsley’s illustrations for Salomé

Gorey, Edward. The Gashlycrumb Tinies. 1963. Bloomsbury, 2019.

Wilde, Oscar.  Salome: a tragedy in one act / translated from the French of Oscar Wilde, with sixteen drawings by Aubrey Beardsley. John Lane London; New York, 1920.

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